America and the Refugee Crisis

A child wears a thermal blanket while waiting with other migrants in the rain for daily food rations at the northern Greek border station of Idomeni, Sunday, March 13, 2016. Bad weather returned after a brief pause and conditions in the refugee camp on the Greek-Macedonian where about 14,000 people are stranded have further deteriorated, many of its residents struggling struggling to cope with the many challenges posed by the heavy rain. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Perhaps it is the largest exodus of people in in the Mediterranean region in centuries.

Although no one knows exactly the number of refugees, it is certain that it exceeds one million.

Nevertheless, the international reaction is disappointing. Except for Greece and Germany – which has already received hundreds of thousands of people – the other countries have indulged in lecturing and in building walls.

Unfortunately, the category of countries appearing indifferent includes the United States, which until now, probably because of the negative climate for migrants created by Donald Trump, has accepted the minimum number of Syrian refugees – and those only with half a heart.

Maybe policy makers think that refugees are a European issue. Not so. Their plight should be a universal concern. It is an issue on which America cannot remain uninvolved.

The United States, after all, was populated by refugees from the beginning of its history. The Pilgrims were refugees from religious persecution.

And the United States cannot remain aloof to the suffering of the Greek people themselves – by the way, whatever came of that much-hyped meeting last August of American officials and Greek-American leaders, held in the Old Executive Building next to the White House, regarding assistance to Greece?

At long last, an American official, Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, visited the refugee camp in Idomeni – at Greece’ s border with FYROM – last week thus sending the message that the United States is re-examining its position.

At the same time, it became known that Greece has requested American assistance.

We hope that the Obama Administration will respond with sympathy and generosity, providing assistance to Greece of at least one billion dollars, and that the aid should have two components: 1) direct assistance to the financially depleted Greek people; and 2) assistance to refugees stranded in Greece.

And the most appropriate occasion for President Obama to announce that humanitarian aid would be during the annual White House celebration of Greek Independence in early April.

In an important essay on Obama’s foreign policy written with his cooperation, the Atlantic magazine revealed that during negotiations for peace in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry went to the President with a request: could the United States aim some missiles at some of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s assets to send a message and maybe compel him move toward an agreement? “Kerry’s looking like a chump with the Russians, because he has no leverage,” the Atlantic noted.

By the same token, America’s absence to this point of a humanitarian undertaking regarding the refugees, beyond the intrinsic significance therein, deprives it of the opportunity to earn to gain serious and effective influence in the broader region.

One must wonder about America’s wisdom in having outsourced this undertaking to Germany.